The guests at the parable of the banquet, part 2

undesired guests at the party

In part 1 of this two-part post we revisited the Old Testament (OT), with a special focus on the difference between sin (narrower category) and impurity (broader category). Now we will take this background and use it to enlighten what is going on in Jesus’ parable of the banquet as found in Luke 14.

What does Jesus do?

With this paradigm of purity, we have a different set of concepts for thinking about the significance of what Jesus did in his ministry.

Let’s briefly remind ourselves of how the parable works. In Jesus’ story, the invited guests miss out on the feast because they don’t respond when it is ready. In anger, the feast-giver has his servants go out and bring in the “poor and crippled and blind and lame” to share in the feast.

This guest list is what triggers a connection back to the passage in Lev 21. When we read the parable as a transparent description of the question, “who will be at the feast celebrating God’s fulfilling of his joyous promises,” we find that the people there are the very ones excluded from access to the holy in the priestly service. This is surprising: the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Access to the holy is reworked in line with Jesus and his work, which shares both continuity and discontinuity with the Law from the OT.

This passage is by no means the only place such an emphasis appears in the Gospels. In fact, it is something of a theme running through Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Jesus’ Table Fellowship

Jesus shared regular table fellowship with “sinners” and other social outsiders. This is part of where he got his reputation of being a friend of tax collectors and sinners.

In the ancient world, who you ate with had significant implications. Sharing a meal in someone’s house meant social acceptance of the other people with whom you were dining. One author notes:

“a scrupulous Pharisee would not eat at the home of a common Israelite since he could not be sure that the food was ceremonially clean or that it had been properly tithed”

Mark L. Strauss, Four Portraits, One Jesus: An Introduction to Jesus and the Gospels, 477.

Here we are with purity again. To remain ritually pure, and thus have symbolic access to the holy, required careful obedience. Since they could not control whether their host was doing the right things with their food, pious religious types only shared meals with others who were also pious on whom they could count to not bring impurity upon them through a failure to have ceremonially clean food.

Jesus’ table fellowship with sinners sets this view on its head. In fellowship with sinners Jesus was, of course, opening himself up to ceremonial impurity. What differed, though, is that Jesus came to bring access to God on a different plane. The coming Kingdom of God means free salvation to all who respond in faith. One might say that it brings open access to the holy that is no longer dependent on how pure/impure the individual is in their obedience to the Law. Jesus is able to “give purity” rather than to be defiled when he comes in contact with the impure. We see this, for example, in the way that Jesus heals people of skin diseases and raises the dead without ever becoming impure. Since Jesus has a super-abundance of purity, he is able to give it to all who will follow him. Therefore all alike, regardless of personal purity, are able to have access to the divine, that is, to God.

The Kingdom of God as restoration

One other point is worth brief mention here. On the guest list in Jesus’ parable are the blind and crippled. As pointed out in part 1, being blind and crippled was not in itself sinful. Though it results in being unclean for priestly work, it was not sin. However, during Jesus’ day we see evidence that thinking had developed linking physical ailments with sin. Consider the man born blind from John 9. The disciples ask Jesus,

“who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

The association is that the state of being blind—though not inherently sinful—was punishment for sin. Of course, there is precedent for this way of thinking in the OT, but the record is complicated. For example, Job was stricken with various ailments, but that was not related to sin. But King Uzziah was struck with leprosy (some sort of skin condition, which may or may not have been what we now consider leprosy) for transgressing his boundaries and approaching the holy even though he was not a priest authorized to do so (2 Chronicles 26). While the precedents are mixed it is easy to see how people would take God’s promises to bless and curse the nation based on its sin and individualize that (see Deut 28, for example). If God brings punishment such as plagues, difficulties in childbirth, etc. for the sin of people groups, then the sin of individuals must also be expressed in their physical circumstances in life.

This line of thinking provides a second helpful background for understanding Jesus’ ministry and the import of the parable. Jesus regularly healed people with physical ailments: blind, lame, crippled hands, etc. These were people whose physical circumstances would have (in the case they were from the tribe of Levi) rendered them unfit for access to the holy in priestly duty. They were also hindrances to participation in community life. They were also interpreted as symbols of God’s judgment for sin. Taken together, the blind, lame, and crippled were symbolic of the downtrodden and outsiders who neither had access to the goods of society nor access to the holy.

Jesus comes with a ministry of healing and restoration. Quoting from Isaiah, he describes his ministry as follows:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4.18-19, ESV)

One of the ways in which Jesus demonstrated the Kingdom of God as restoration was in fellowshipping with and healing people whose physical infirmities placed them in various states of impurity, thus excluded from access to God, thus excluded from the expected blessings which God promised.

Tying it all together

Thinking about the parable of the banquet, we find that there is a multiplex of significance in the composition of the guests who end up at the banquet. More could be said on this front, as we have ignored the last stage in the parable where the servants go out to the hedges and highways to bring people in. The concept of purity turns out to be a helpful OT background for understanding why Jesus uses these categories as those who make it to the banquet.

The infirm map well onto the categories of priests who could not carry out temple work because their physical infirmities rendered them of insufficient purity to approach the holiness of God’s presence. The further theological implication that physical infirmity was tied up with sin added greater depth to the notion of people being impure. Jesus presents the very group assumed to be unworthy to enter into God’s presence as the one which gets to enjoy the joyous fulfillment of God’s promises to his people.

In Jesus’ parable, as well as in his ministry, he laid an example that access to the holy was being redefined in surprising ways. That is a call which we must never tire of hearing. In Jesus’ day, people who were certain that their approach to life was the one which led to access to the holy struggled with Jesus’ ministry. Jesus challenged them and pointed to a different way, as hinted at and promised in the OT—a way of faith and a way of God’s own making. Lest we be guilty of the same struggle, we must ourselves be aware of the human tendency to limit the path of access to God in ways that God doesn’t. We have a tendency to mix standards of our own behaviors and expectations in. We end up saying something like, “in order to come to God you have to do x, y, and z.” It is no coincidence that the steps we add tend to map onto the way that we live life.

Jesus is no more impressed by Christian versions of an “access to God through following prescribed purity codes” than he was of those of his day. While purity and holiness were and always will be important, Jesus challenges us to check where our hearts are at, because they can all too easily miss being at the place where God’s heart is at.

The guests at the parable of the banquet, part 1

undesired guests at the party

What on earth does having damaged testicles have to do with the message of the Kingdom of God? Or for that matter, running sores, being a hunchback, or having an eye defect? Perhaps you thought about this as we looked at the parable of the banquet from the Gospel of Luke.  Someone raised the question last week after the service about what connection the passage read from Leviticus has to the Parable of the Banquet in Luke. Here are some thoughts on this question.

These questions are raised from Leviticus 21.17-23. I suggest that this passage shows an important backdrop to understanding the profound nature of what Jesus came to do, did, and is still doing today. It fits within a larger pattern in Jesus’ ministry of sharing table fellowship with sinners and social outsiders. But it takes a little to work our way back into understanding how these hold together.

The place to start: Old Testament (OT) purity laws.

To avoid an over-lengthy post, I am splitting this discussion up into 2 parts. Part 2 can be accessed here.

OT purity

These OT purity laws are really important to help understand how novel, surprising, and meaningful Jesus’ actions of dining with the sinners were. To start with, here is the Leviticus text (21:17-23):

16 The Lord said to Moses, 17 “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. 18 No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; 19 no man with a crippled foot or hand, 20 or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. 21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the Lord. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. 22 He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; 23 yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the Lord, who makes them holy.’”

At issue in this text is the priests. No man in the priestly family with one of these defects could bring sacrifices in the the tabernacle or temple. While they could eat the food set aside for the priests, they did not get to serve in the temple. Why? Is God prejudiced against handicapped people or people who happened to receive a major injury at some point in their life?

While that may stand out as a reason, the explanation lies deeper than just “you look bad, so I don’t want to see you.”

Orienting ourselves to the Law

When Christians talk about the OT Law, we tend to talk about it in terms of sin. The Law prohibits certain things, breaking the Law is sinning, and Jesus is the savior from sin that God provides. This is all well and good, as far as it goes, but it is far from a complete picture. In the NT, the Law often is talked about in terms of sin, but the category of sin does not exhaust what the Law deals with. In fact, a lot of the laws in the Exodus-Deuteronomy chunk of Scripture do not deal with sin, but what would better be described as purity and impurity (or clean/unclean).

Consider this following brief description:

“On the basis of Levitical law, everything in life was either holy or common for the Hebrews. Those things determined common were subdivided into categories of clean and unclean. Clean things might become holy through sanctification or unclean through pollution. Holy things could be profaned and become common or even unclean. Unclean things could be cleansed and then consecrated or sanctified to be made holy.”

Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd ed, 132.

Sin is only one way for a “common” or “holy” thing to become unclean. Disease, infection, contamination, etc. were other ways. There is an underlying logic standing behind laws about mildew in walls and on garments as well as laws on impurity caused by menstruation and ejaculation. They are not sin issues; rather, they are issues of clean/unclean. While an obvious and satisfactory reason uniting all the different purity laws is evasive, there are some major trends which run through them. Two of these are (1) life and death and (2) order/disorder.

Life and death

First, purity laws often relate to the categories of life and death. Semen and menstrual blood relate to the production of life, and thus result in being unclean, while sweat and breast milk do not, thus do not result in being unclean.  

Order and Disorder

Second, the concept of order and disorder stands behind such laws as dealing with mildew in a house or on fabric as well as laws about physical impediments.

Why bother with all this clean/unclean stuff?

Purity as access to the sacred

In short, purity and impurity have to do with access to the sacred. In practice, this means someone who was not clean could not go into the tabernacle or temple. The closer one came to the temple, the greater the purity requirements. For the average Israelite, maintaining a generic state of purity would probably not have been that difficult. Think more like the effort required to keep up with the rules in a Homeowners Association than the sort of herculean effort people often make keeping the Law out to be. While the rules for the HOA may look and sound onerous on the outside, when everyone around you is doing it to, it is just the way things are. For the Israelite, life was arranged to keep general purity and to deal with impurity when it came up.

However, purity/impurity was a constant factor in access to God. As God dwelt symbolically among his people in the tabernacle and then the temple, there was a geographical place at the center of relationship to God. Of course, people learned about, followed, and worshiped God more than just at the temple. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that attendance at the temple was a regular feature for most Israelites in their lives at any point in its history. But, the center point was a place. And to get to that place required ritual purity because only the pure could enter into the presence of the holy.

The priests are special

The passage in Leviticus cited above is about the priests. The priests have a special set of guidelines, because they have a special relationship to the holy. While an ordinary Israelite could maintain generic purity without too much effort, priests required a greater level of purity because their role kept them in more constant contact with the holy. And this higher stringency is reflected in the laws regarding physical health among priests.

There is nothing sinful about having a skin disease, or a hunchback, or even damaged testicles. Members of the priestly families with these health conditions and/or handicaps and/or injuries were not excluded from priestly service because they were sinful, but because they fell short of the requisite purity for their job. This sort of purity seems to operate under the logic of functionality and orderliness. An orderly and functional human body does not have a hunchback; thus a hunchback is a departure from the norm, thus unclean for the purpose of priestly work.

One might think of it this way. Physical handicaps and broken bodies are embodied representations of the marring effect of human rebellion against God. To have a physical handicap or injury or ailment is not itself sinful, but it is a lived-with mark that the world is broken. To approach God as a priest required a level of purity which did not allow bringing broken bodies into the service. That sounds harsh to us (even though in our society we tend to de facto segregate people with handicaps and physical ailments aside anyway), but that is the logic at work in the OT Law.

Summary on purity and the law

While the Law does deal with sin and morality, this is just one category within the broader paradigm of pure/impure, clean/unclean. A lot of the violations which render one unclean are not moral/sinful, they are just pure/impure. However, the very existence of purity and impurity is an embodied reminder that access to the holy—access to God—is ruptured. Adam and Eve, we are told, had access to God in the Garden of Eden. They talked with him, and it is implied that they regularly had interaction with him, in whatever form that would have taken. For everyone after the rebellion against God, we live in a constant state in which our access to God is (mercifully) cut off because if we were to come into contact with the holy in our impure state, we would die. The Law, among many other things, provides the means to stay pure/clean to a proficient degree in order that the people of Israel could bear God’s name and have him in their presence. Even this generic level of purity, though, is not sufficient to gain access to God. For that, people are too impure.

This paradigm of purity serves as a key background for understanding Jesus’ ministry. To that, we turn now in part 2.

There will be wars and rumors of wars: a prayer for Ukraine

As you likely now know, Russia has invaded Ukraine. Much could be and has been said about the geopolitics of the situation, and any major news outlet is keeping pace with events as they unfold. What is behind the war and does it make any sense? Is it a worthy war? That is a question for others to answer. As I reflect on this tragedy unfolding, I am reminded that as is so often the case, the livelihoods and lives of normal people are the price that is paid for the ideologies and visions of leaders, countries, and groups. While certainly there a differences among peoples and worldviews and ideologies, it is hard to ever conclude that approaching your neighbor with a rifle is the best way to show love to them. Yet, time and time again, that is the way we solve problems in life: political problems, economic problems, relational problems, personal problems. Russia is by no means the only country which has made use of thin pretexts for the purpose of self-aggrandizing wars, wars calculated to serve self-interest. And the cycle goes on.

There is no end in sight. While the Ukraine conflict, or war, or whatever name we end up calling it, will someday (hopefully very soon) end, the cycle of violence will continue. And this is simply because the problems at the root of it are bigger than nationalism, bigger than political ideologies, bigger than economics, or history, or ethnic and language groups. The problems which keep driving this forward can’t be stopped by negotiation, sanctions, political organizations, or even big armies (even if all these things are often helpful in restraining the very sort of armed conflicts and wars which have been relatively infrequent around the world in the last century–as compared to other periods of world history, that is).

At the heart of this conflict is the simple reality that humans are broken. Our hearts are bent and don’t work like they are supposed to. Because we do not all worship King Jesus, our hearts worship other things and are led astray. Whether power, politics, fame, fortune, whatever it be, whenever we seek our identity, our purpose, our sense of value and belonging in anything apart from God, people will suffer. We will suffer and people around us will always pay the cost. Mixing our sin and the sins of others never results in a better situation. It is a vicious cycle that (most) people hate but we cannot escape. That is the clear lesson not just from Scripture, but from the pages of history. Until all people worship King Jesus, there will always be other kings in our hearts who drive us to hurt ourselves and others in their service.

A Prayer

As I reflect on this situation, I offer the following prayers:

Lord God, Father of all, Ruler of all,

  • We pray that the fighting in Ukraine would cease;
  • We pray for mercy on those who are injured, that their lives would be spared;
  • We pray for the enormous numbers who are put in danger simply because of where they happen to live, what geopolitical unit they happen to “belong” to, and who now have no choice but to suffer for the sinful acts and intentions of others;
  • We pray for acts of mercy to triumph over acts of violence in those who are fighting;
  • We pray that whoever emerges in power in different areas of the country will exercise that power not to oppress and destroy, but to give people the opportunity for life and hope;
  • We pray that peoples’ hearts will be lifted to look for hope not in sanctions, nor armies, nor multi-lateral treaties, nor strategic military interventions, but in the God who holds all things in his hands, even things as hard and seemingly senseless as this fighting.


Joseph and cultural normalcy

Remember Joseph? Not Joseph of the famous duo Mary and Joseph, but Joseph the son of Jacob? Joseph of the coat of many colors fame?

In the life of Joseph, we see one who broke the mold and the power which the mold has over everyone living in it. By the “mold” here I mean simply the expectations of the world in which we live and move and have our being. Call it our surroundings, our culture, our reality. Normalcy is the air we breathe, the water we swim in, and any other metaphor you can think of for the matrix within which we live our lives.


Culture can be thought of as a corporate way of life constructed out of long practices within a group of people. Culture, in this sense, is the social norms, practices, beliefs, and assumptions which animate the way of life of a particular group of people. We usually only become aware of our culture when we encounter someone who follows a different set of practices, social norms, etc. Culture is engrained and self-evident to us. In a word, culture is powerful.

Joseph breaking conventions

Joseph’s life thwarted the expectations of his culture in many ways. He was the favored son, although not a firstborn. His favored status was painfully obvious to the rest of his family. Joseph’s oblivious father ended up sealing his fate by giving Joseph a gift highlighting his status as the family favorite: a special robe. At this, his brothers took matters into their own hands to reestablish the expected social norm. The logic behind their actions works something like this:

  1. We may not like being the non-favorite, but at least if everyone is playing by the same rules and the firstborn is the default favorite, we are in the same boat as everyone else we know.
  2. Joseph is not the firstborn (in fact, he is number 11 of 12), thus him being the father’s favorite makes life uncomfortable—our family dynamics don’t match up with how they are supposed to be.

The brothers’ dislike of Joseph, fueled by his own rather superior behavior, results in Joseph becoming a slave.

But even as a slave, Joseph breaks the mold. He became a slave who ruled a household, then a prisoner who ran the prison, then who ascended to the very height of power as the de facto ruler of Egypt in matters regarding domestic policy. His life arch is nothing short of astounding and unconventional.

After the family is reunited in Egypt, we get a glimpse into Joseph’s own perspective on his exceptional life. While talking with his brothers—now scarred that he will pay them back for what they did—Joseph acknowledges that the journey he has taken was God’s will, rather than their bare act of jealousy-motivated violence against him (Gen. 50.19-20).

19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Joseph becoming conventional

But what chiefly interests me right now is how utterly conventional Joseph turns out to be. We see this in chapter 48 when Joseph takes his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, to his father Jacob to be blessed. Joseph gits ticked off at his father because he blesses Ephraim with his right hand, even though Ephraim is the younger son. “Come on, dad,” he says, “don’t you know that Manasseh is the firstborn and should have the better (that means “right-handed”) blessing?”

Thinking about the life stories of who is involved here, it is an odd thing for Joseph to get upset about. Joseph is the favored son, despite not being firstborn by a longshot, of the non-firstborn patriarch who deceitfully stole the blessing of the firstborn from his elder brother, Esau, and then sneaked and cheated a fortune for himself. Why on earth would Joseph expect anything conventional in this blessing arrangement?


Pure and simple. The firstborn gets the blessing. Even when two such non-conventional persons as Jacob and Joseph are involved, the programming power of culture is nigh on impossible to escape. All his life experience to the contrary, Joseph is as convinced as everyone else around him that the firstborn must receive the greater blessing because that is how things are done.

Living within cultural expectations

Why does this matter for us? It is an interesting story about two dudes who lived a long time ago, and in itself does not have much implication for the further plotline of the Bible. But it has huge implications for understanding less who we are and more how we are.

Just like Joseph, we live in a world of cultural assumptions which shapes and forms us to immense degrees. The values we have about good, bad, justice, poverty, money, rights, conventions, etc., are indelibly imprinted by the situation around us. By our culture. There is little that we think, say, believe, and do, which is not shot through and through with cultural normalcy. Like Joseph, we are capable both of having profound insight into the works of God in our lives and in the world and also be largely blind to what God is doing in the world because our assumptions fall in line with our cultural expectations rather than the eyes of faith.

One of Jesus’ masterstrokes as a teacher is that he asked lots of questions which force his hearers to examine their lives from a different perspective. These questions force us to question our assumptions about reality, of what is good or bad, right or wrong, just or unjust, etc.

What are we doing in our lives such that we are being shaped more by our life experience with Jesus than by the default expectations of how the world works which we unconsciously imbibe from our culture?

Stating the problem is a start; answering it takes all that we are.

The generous justice of God

Justice is all the rage these days.

What exactly justice is is a complicated notion, full of complicated sub-discussions and issues. In the Parable of the Generous Vineyard Owner (or the Laborers in the Vineyard) in Matthew 20.1-16, an interesting wrinkle in justice stands out.

Remember the basic story: a man hires workers for a full day for an agreed upon wage, then goes out several more times throughout the day and hires more, finally paying everyone the same amount no matter how long or short they worked. Understandably, the guys hired first are ticked that the latecomers who worked for 1 hour got paid as much as they did, after working for 12 hours. That is not at all fair.

And you know what? The vineyard owner never talks about being fair. The key word he uses in arranging payment with the latter hired workers is that he will pay them whatever is “just/right” (Mt 20.4).

Justice is a key aspect of God’s dealing with the world. The vineyard owner is like God. While it can be perilous to press every detail of a parable into profound theological points, humor me for a second as we think about his promise to pay them “whatever is just.”

The vineyard owner does not prorate the salaries based on hours worked, giving the 1-hour workers 1/12 of a denarius, and so on. That is what I would expect for a “just” payment arrangement if I was employed under similar circumstances. And that is what the first set of workers expected. If the last group got one day’s wage, certainly it was all but right for them to get more.

Instead, the vineyard owner calls it “just” to give everyone a whole day’s wage regardless of how long said worker worked. He doesn’t give anyone more than he had promised to pay; he doesn’t give anyone less than he had promised to pay; and he gives generously all at the same time. Justice, in this parable, does not involve skimping or short-changing anyone, but it also doesn’t involve rigidity; justice is allowed to be generous.

The Justice System

At risk of raising ugly political feelings, humor me in an exercise to think in a Christian way about justice. When I think of “justice,” the most prominent institution that comes to mind is “the (criminal) justice system.” What is “justice” within this system? While, it is many things, but what strikes me at the moment is that justice is mainly a negative thing. That is, justice is usually measured in retributive punishment. Someone commits a crime and justice is a certain jail sentence, or fine, or sentence to community service, etc. Justice is “paying off one’s debt to society.”

Justice, in this context, has room for concepts like “grace” and “leniency,” as well as “severity” and “penalty.” But a word that has never come to my mind in thinking about the justice system: generosity.

Justice in the Kingdom of God

In the Kingdom of God, justice is not (only) a negative thing. It is not (only) about punishing those who break the law. It is also a reality that is rich in generosity. Justice comes from a perspective of abundance of love, not scarcity of resources.

In applying this parable to our own lives, this parable gives us a model of justice to follow. The vineyard owner’s actions of unfairly paying those who worked less the same wage is described as “just.” Justice in the Kingdom of God is a positive concept animated by love and mercy.

The vineyard owner hires multiple workers at multiple times and this is an exercise in justice. Justice, in this view, looks a lot more like aiming to help others fulfill their potential and meet their needs rather than aiming to punish.

Is punishment part of justice? Of course. But if you are like me, the punishment side of justice is far easier to understand than the generosity side of justice. Being generous with his goodness is part of God’s justice in his kingdom.

Being people who live in God’s Kingdom (under his rule) and who pray for his kingdom to come on this earth as it is in heaven, we probably need to square with the generous justice of God.

Welcome to the pastor’s blog

digital heart formation

Digital discipleship

Digital discipleship.

Maybe that is a new term. So let me explain it briefly by way of a few observations. According to a recent study by eMarketer, the average US adult spends close to 8 hours looking at a screen of some sort each day, including 2 hours of watching streaming videos (TV shows, YouTube, movies, etc.) and 1 hour on social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, etc.). Of course, many of us spend a good deal of our time working looking at a screen as well. On average, over 3 hours of that 8-hour total is with a smartphone.

To put that in perspective, on an average day the average American adult spends more time looking at screens than sleeping. That is a first in world history! I don’t know where you fit into that statistic—less or more screen time—but increasingly few people in our culture don’t fit into this statistic.

This is not meant to be alarmist—though aspects of it are certainly alarming—but realistic. We are an increasingly digital people.

Along with the increase in digital input, the amount of time we spend fellowshipping with other believers—indeed, other people in general—tends to keep decreasing.

For those who care about faithfulness to Jesus, we have to ask ourselves how all that screen time is forming our souls. Because it is.

The world of Google, Facebook, Amazon, cable news, streaming music, and any other digital platforms does not exist to just offer us some useful tools, but to convince us of certain things. Browsing through websites is an experience of discipleship. We are being taught in a million different little ways to desire certain things, to believe certain “truths” about life, and to understand ourselves and others in certain ways. No technology—from the humble garden rake to the most advanced computer system—leaves its user the same as when they came to it. We use tools because they help us, but we also need to be mindful that they change us.

Enter digital discipleship. This blog is an effort at digital discipleship. Through it, I am hoping to inject some more intentional Gospel hope, spiritual challenge, and Christian influence into your digital consuming habits. Many of us see each other only once a week, on Sunday morning. And worshipping together on Sunday morning is awesome. This blog is a way to further play the role of teacher in the church as we live life together.

What this blog is

In short, I will use this blog to further teach and process the world as I try to figure out what following Jesus faithfully looks like in a world of smartphones, genetic engineering, and the age-old specters which continue to haunt us in the form of poverty, hopelessness, pride, etc., many of which take on new faces in the new type of world we live in.

Sometimes I will write further thoughts on the text for a sermon, sometimes random thoughts on a given passage of Scripture, sometimes more extended reflections on pressing issues which face us as God’s people in the here and now. Some thoughts simply cover things which we don’t really have a good forum to discuss in other contexts yet are relevant in thinking about living as followers of Jesus. All of it is meant to be an invitation to see how the gospel of Jesus Christ should shape our lives, our thinking, and our action, day by day.

What this blog is not

As digital as we are becoming, we are actually analog beings. Better yet, we are flesh-and-blood beings that God created long before any human being had the slightest inkling of what electricity was. As flesh-and-blood beings, a huge part of what we need is simply to be together.

Technology enables many amazing things. Praise the Lord that the ability to stream church services allowed, and continues to allow, us to practice prudent safety in the midst of the covid pandemic. Who knows when such a response will be needed again? And, Lord willing, it will no longer be necessary in the near future.

What spending that time apart has shown us is that being apart is not the same thing as being together, even if we can still have a sermon, sing songs, and all the other things. God made us as people to live in community. God made us to love each other as we rub shoulders with each other in life. Digital community, while a real part of our lives and growing in its influence, is not enough. Digital community does not equal the church.

This blog is not meant to discourage us from being together. Digital discipleship is simply another avenue to talk Jesus to each other and the world around us.

In closing

I hope that this effort will prove helpful. I am convinced that in the world we live in, digital discipleship will become increasingly important. I am trying to figure out more how to do this well, whether through blogging or other means. And, I am trying to figure out how to best be a flesh-and-blood pastor ministering to flesh-and-blood people living here and now.

May God bless us as we move forward in following him in this brave new world with the same old brokenness and same old need for the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Parable of the Two Builders (Mt 7.24-27): It’s not what you build, but where

Take a couple minutes and watch this awesome LEGO© version of the Parable of the Wise and Foolish builders that someone put together.

LEGO Wise and Foolish Builders

Pretty cool, right?

The parable and the house(s)

Notice that in this video version of the parable, the houses which the two builders build are completely different. One builds a hovel on a rock—and he is wise; one builds a mansion on the beach—he is a fool. I’ve looked at many different visual adaptations of this parable and see this theme over and over again. The foolish builder either builds a lavish house, or a slovenly quick-pop-up house, etc. The wise builder, by contrast, is often depicted as building a strong and simple house. His house lasts because it is well put together and not ostentatious. The foolish builder loses his house because it is poorly built or an extravagant waste of money.

The above video well illustrates this line of interpretation (and yes, videos and pictures are interpretations). The houses of the two builders are completely opposites of each other, so the foolish builder comes off both as a critique of where he builds and as a condemnation for his ostentatious wealth as displayed in the type of house he builds.


While fun, the interpretation in the video is not actually found in the parable at all. Notice that there is no actual discussion of how the house was built or what kind of house was built. The discussion in the parable is based entirely on where the house was built. We can imply that there was some difference in the house that was built and possibly that there was more work involved in the one than the other, but even in Luke’s version (Luke 6.46-49), the focus is entirely on the foundation. Not the house.

Letting our focus drift from the foundation to the sort of house that is built—and how much work goes into building that house—can desensitize us to the heart of the parable. The parable strikes a nerve and importing the notion of wealth and sensibility into it can make it miss some of that nerve. Jesus has lots to say about wealth, but that is not the point of this parable.

You see, in this parable Jesus’ point is not to condemn wealth or laziness. The point of the contrast is not that one builder worked hard to build the house and the other did not. The contrast is what kind of foundation they built on.

Keeping the main thing the main thing

I think the element of wealth and laziness vs. industriousness which this video introduces functions to lessen the strikingness of the parable. It makes it easier to swallow. When we turn the parable into teaching the virtue of working harder and smarter, it is suddenly easy to position ourselves as the “good guy” in the parable: “I am willing to work hard and I am not wealthy, so I must be the good guy in the parable, not the bad guy.” The problem though—and this was an endemic problem in Jesus’ ministry—was not that he was dealing with people who were too lazy to work hard at following God. In point of fact, many of the religious leaders who opposed Jesus most vociferously were extremely devoted to religious life. Jesus’ parable challenges their understanding not of how hard someone must work to get into the Kingdom of God, rather of how that work must be oriented.

There is a big part of us that likes the message “work harder, work smarter, and you will enter the Kingdom of God.” The problem, though, is that Jesus doesn’t say “work harder.” This parable is not about how hard the builders work, but about where they work. If you work hard building on sand, when the flood comes, whatever you built, no matter how hard you labored at it, will come crashing down. By contrast, if you work hard building on the rock, it will stand. The outcome is not based on how hard you work—it is assumed that you will be working at building your life. The outcome is based entirely on where you build.

Jesus does not call us to work harder. I should say, Jesus calls us to something more profound than working harder. Working hard is assumed. Likewise, Jesus doesn’t just tell us to work smarter. Again, that is assumed. Jesus challenges the very foundational principles of our lives. Where is our hope? What are we banking on to bring us through in the end? What are we turning to to find meaning for our lives? What is love and how do we show it to other people? These are the sorts of foundational principles of life which Jesus challenges.

You are building your life-house on something, and you are working hard at it. Jesus challenges us to be sure that the hard work we are doing is on the right building site.